General Motors CMO Joel Ewanick didn't wait long to drop the other shoe after departing Facebook and Super Bowl advertising a couple of weeks ago.
In announcing Chevrolet's China-focused global sponsorship deal with the world's most popular soccer franchise — Manchester United — today, the GM marketing chief switched the focus to a bold step of commission rather than omission, accelerated Chevy's identification as a worldwide rather than a U.S. marque, and just may have changed one of America's most iconic brands forever.
"As Chevrolet continues to grow as a global brand, this is the right time to make a commitment and establish a presence in international football," Ewanick said in a press release about becoming the official vehicle of the Barclays Premier League giant. "Our ambition is to connect with football in a fashion that transcends traditional sponsorship."
Under the terms of the new deal, Chevy is paying an undisclosed amount for a five-year commitment to become the official automotive partner of Manchester United, and to create the Chevrolet China Cup as part of the team's 2012 tour. The cup will take place in July and feature matches in Shanghai and another Chinese city. It's the first global soccer sponsorship by Chevrolet in the brand's 101-year history.
At a news conference in Shanghai this morning, after expressing his enthusiasm on Twitter, Ewanick didn't indicate the financial commitment involved, according to Automotive News.
As part of this overall initiative, Chevrolet also has announced a partnership with the One World Futbol Project, an organization focused on sustaining play for youth in impoverished regions through a "virtually indestructible" soccer ball.
Chevy plans to donate 1.5 million of these little wonder spheres over the next three years to organizations working with youth living in war-stricken zones, refugee camps, disaster areas and other disadvantaged communities, as explained in the video below featuring Sting:
"As Chevrolet continues to grow as a global brand, this is the right time to make a commitment and establish a presence in international football," Ewanick commented in a press release. "Our ambition is to connect with football in a fashion that transcends traditional sponsorship."
Ewanick (who's also been shaking up GM's agency relationships) added that, "to be a truly respected global brand, you must inspire consumers. Few brands, if any, can match the ability to inspire people everywhere as Manchester United."
GM already sold more than 2.5 million vehicles in China in 2011, including nearly 600,000 Chevrolets, up 9 percent from a year earlier. Chevy sales there were still a far cry from brand sales in the United States last year of about 1.8 million.
But there's no doubt that a potentially huge future for Chevrolet lies in China, and more and more of GM's marketing and product activities reflect that future. Earlier this year, for instance, Chevy launched its new Malibu in Shanghai — the first time that nameplate has been sold in China — to flesh out its growing car lineup there.
Meanwhile, CBS said that its inventory of advertising slots for Super Bowl XLVII on February 3 is more than half sold out already, a good indicator considering that the asking price seems to be around $3.8 million for a 30-second spot. It won't be until about February 10 or so before it's really possible to tell whether GM has made the right move in forgoing the next Big Game.
There was no early word on how spending behind Chevy's soccer initiative would compare with the estimated $23 million to $25 million that GM will save from abandoning Facebook ads and pulling out of the Super Bowl, compared with previous expenditure levels. In any event, each of the amounts involved is only a relative drop in the bucket on the way to Ewanick's vow to cull $2 billion in marketing expenditures.
But the Chevrolet China Cup could be a big deal in China. And it could be a seminal move in the global automotive brand race.
Below, Ewanick's tweets about the Manchester United / Chevy China Cup news this morning: